So I replaced my convertible top...

Discussion in 'Exterior and Interior' started by samc, Jan 13, 2015.

  1. samc

    samc New Member

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    It's possible! But now I know why top shops charge $1000+ for the job. I'd already replaced a Miata top and figured I knew at least the general idea, but the two-piece Mustang top is a different beast. Here's the deal.

    I bought the top and a new set of tension cables from Topsonline.com; great people! they were out of stock on the EZ On that I'd ordered, so they sent me the slightly more expensive Robbins at no additional cost. They shipped priority mail, 3 days to Hawai'i; why can't some of the other vendors figure that out (are you listening, American Muscle? Late Model Restoration? with your $100 + UPS surface shipping. ha.) A top is a pretty big, heavy package, but shipping via USPS was reasonable. The Robbins top is a dead match for the original. I suppose the EZ On is too; they all seem to have the same patterns.

    I had bought a video of how to remove and install a top from an ebay vendor and watched it a couple of times, all hour and a half, and took notes of the order in which to do things. The video was great; the youtube stuff is OK but no detail. The DVD I bought had some guy who looked like Elmer Fudd with the slowest voice imaginable replacing an 01 Mustang top and it was really, really helpful. Well worth the $25 it cost.

    I used about a half a box of ziploc bags to put the hardware in, and checked things off on my checklist as I went. You really need the 13 mm 12 point socket for the nuts along the rear tack strip. Not a deep socket, either; there's barely room. Doing it with a box wrench will add a couple of hours and a gallon of sweat to the job. An air ratchet helps a lot, too.

    The top is held on with about a million staples. Try and keep track of them, they can damage the new top. I bought stainless steel staples from Amazon, ⅜" and ¼" sizes. It's hard to overdo the staples when installing the new top.

    Speaking of which, save the old top! You'll need to take measurements of the distance between the top and bottom of the rear, window panel because the Robbins is poorly marked (that is, not at all, really). There are holes in the inner, black part (the window panel is two layers) that align with the bottom of the tack strip, but there's almost ¼" slop depending on whether you use the top or bottom of the holes. The correct answer is to measure the old top and make a chalk line, which will be nowhere near the holes in the top. Same deal for the outer layer. The two layers are stapled separately to the rear tack strip, an incredibly awkward process. Similarly, the sail panels on the top upper staple to all three tack strips, an even more awkward process. Once they were stapled I cut holes for the bolts to match the holes in the tack strips. Don't forget to staple the elastic tensioner, too. I did.

    The only way I found to get the tack strips onto the studs was to start a nut in the center and work out. This is the most physically demanding part; you're crouched in the back, with no padding or seat, surrounded by black cloth, and it's hot and dirty and noisy. This is where you are thankful for the air ratchet and the 12 point socket. Once this is done, it's down hill. About 3 hours of down hill.

    I got to do the stapling three times, test fitting each time; but that's more about my OCD than anything else. I'm convinced that if I'd stopped with the first fitting it'd be fine, because it all stretches and moves once installed anyway.

    There are three ways to route the tension cable, and two of them are wrong. Pay attention when you take it out, and take pictures even. One of the wrong ways is through the rubber weatherstrip which will soon tear at the ends until the tension cable is laying across the windows. This did not happen to me, for a wonder.

    Pay attention to how the 2nd bow listing is wrapped around the bow; ⅛" more or less makes a difference in how flat the top sits. Too tight will give you dimples, too loose will flap. I guess tight is better because it'll eventually stretch out some.

    While the top is off is not a good time to adjust the fit of the frame, it needs the tension of the top to fit right. There are instructions on line for adjusting the frame fit, up/down, front/back. Tiny adjustments make huge changes at the front bow. leave it unless it's been a problem.

    3M Super 77 contact cement is great stuff, lets you position things until you get them stapled or screwed, but you need to mask. Elmer Fudd (no disrespect intended; I just don't know what else to call him) in the video used a piece of cardboard. This works best if you have three or four hands, but spring clamps can help to hold stuff while you position it, glue it, etc. He's been doing it for decades, so he can just about throw the top on from across the room and have time for lunch. Me, I need to work at it.

    You want to put the back seat in last, because you will drop a screw or two installing the weather strips and the only way to get them back is with the seat out.

    The screws in the front bow are #10 torx (most, but not all, of the hardware is torx, either a 10, 15, or 20). I killed two Craftsman #10 torx drivers. Remember when Craftsman was good tools with a good warrantee? Ha.

    Stretch the heck out of the front part of the top when you install it. Don't forget to put the headliner in first, and use the old fade marks to position it and glue and staple it in the same places so it'll fit right. The top material on the Robbins was a bit too long, I just trimmed it where I needed to clear the latches and screws. the folds at the corners are tricky, you might get to practice them a few times. Take pictures of the old top for guidance.

    By the way, you can totally kill your battery running the top up and down to test fit. Don't ask.....

    You will need;

    Torx drivers, number 10, 15, and 20. Try for good ones, but if not, get a couple of the 10, they're just too small to hold up.
    Number 3 Phillips screwdriver
    13mm 12 point socket and ratchet, either air or the other kind. For sure. Doing it with a box wrench will make you crazy and in pain.
    Trim tool to remove trim plugs on the inside quarter panels. Plastic trim tools are cheap and good to have around anyway. I got a set years ago at Harbor Freight and they are worth the $2 they cost. More.
    tack puller; spend the $5 and get one, doing it with a screwdriver is lame and much harder
    A lifetime supply of small ziploc bags and a sharpie to label them.
    a piece of chalk. Any old thing will do, it's not critical.
    a tape measure; you'll need to make sure the top pieces are centered and the rear bow height is correct
    a serious stapler. I got an air stapler from Amazon for $30, but an electric would work too. I wouldn't think of doing this with a hand stapler.
    ¼" and ⅜" staples, stainless steel, galvanized, or monel
    spray contact cement, like 3M super 77. you don't need much, you'll use it about three times
    10 mm socket to remove the bottom bolts on the seat back.
    Something really sharp, like a utility knife with new blades.
    A awl or something pointy is helpful in aligning holes in stuff.
    For some reason reason I used an 11 mm socket, but I can't for the life of me remember where.
    A friend would be a big help. Won't save much time, but it will save your sanity. Besides, you'll need somebody to cuss out, and your buddy might notice when you get fatigued and put the top on inside out.
    A tack and staple puller; it's a thing like a slotted screwdriver with a notch in the blade. Buy one, they're $5.

    If your tension cables are rusty and you replace them, you'll need 3/16" pop rivets about ½" long to attach the new cables, and a ⅛" drill bit to remove the old ones. If you keep the tension cables, which is probably the case, you only need a straightened out coat hanger and a bit of masking tape.

    A bottle of Ibuprofin is nice to have around. Bandaids, too.

    The whole job can reasonably be done in 8 to 12 hours, which is what I have in it, counting multiple test fittings and fiddling around spread over several days (OK; a whole week. I'm old and slow). I'm 67 years old and have pretty good arthritis in my hands and I could manage it, so I suspect most of the people here can do it if they can follow instructions, not cut off their thumbs with the utility knife, and don't get in a rush. Don't start this job Sunday afternoon and plan to drive to work Monday morning. In fact, it's better if you plan to hitch a ride that week or take the bus; that way you don't get in a rush and screw something up. If an old guy can do this, you can. This is not a lot of special tools; if you have a reasonable tool chest, the air or electric stapler and hand tools you don't have will cost less than $50. if you have a compressor you probably already have an air ratchet, nice but not vital. Considering that a pro installation will set you back easily $1000 for labor (I was quoted $1100 labor) plus $400 easy for the top (I was quoted $450), and you can do this whole job for less than $500 including the top, shipping, and special tools, spending a few bucks on tools starts to look good. In fact, you can tell the wife/girl friend that spending $600 on tools (notice how that crept up), top and pancake compressor (they're on sale at Lowe's as I write this) is still less than half the cost of a professional job, and you can do it right!

    Buy the video; don't waste time with the you-tube vids, they don't show enough detail, are confusing, and the pages from the Ford service manual the Topsonline packs with the top are confusing and make the job way too hard. The guy in the video has got this down to a science and knows where to cut corners and where to pay close attention. $25 well spent. I wish I knew who this guy was, I'd write him a fan letter.

    I'm not including pics because the video is way better.

    By the way, after sitting in the sun for a week, all the wrinkles are gone and the top looks killer good! If I didn't keep finding staples on the garage floor (still sweeping; man there are a lot of staples in those tops!) I'd swear somebody else who knew what they were doing did the job.

    I hope this helps if you're on the fence about this job.
     
  2. DropTopPony

    DropTopPony Administrator Staff Member Admin SN95 Supporter

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    Thanks for the info!

    That is why I had no issues with paying for my top replacement :)
     
  3. samc

    samc New Member

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    wise man...
     
  4. Slipperman

    Slipperman Member

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    Subscribed!!
    I have a compulsion to do things myself if at all possible.
    Now in my 50's, the tools I've acquired by the rationalization listed above have been used more than once and I'm glad I didn't wimp out when faced with a daunting task.
    I always have to wonder, how does the factory work this out? I'm sure they have a vendor for the tops, but still, someone has to do the deed, right?
     
  5. samc

    samc New Member

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    I can see where this could be done in a couple of hours at the factory level. Two or three of the replacement hours are removing the old top, including getting other stuff like the back seat and quarter panels out of the way and removing a zillion staples. If the top were installed before the seats and rear inside quarter panels, and stuff like that, it'd be easier. Plus, the rear tack strip could be pre-stapled to the window panel in a jig, since the dimensions are known and don't change, and the sail panels could be pre-stapled to the side tack strips, a major time-saver. Then all the assembly line would have to do is staple the top of the window panel to the 4th bow, staple the sail panels to the rear tack strip which hopefully would be marked with guides or use a jig (a major problem in installing a new top. I seem to recall that the EZ On I did had useful marks, but the Robbins certainly did not, and ¼" error at this point - stapling the sail panels to the rear tack strip - makes the difference between wrinkles and no wrinkles in the sail panel) or somehow "helped". Harley Davidson uses laser lines as guides in certain critical assembly operations and even in some pin striping; maybe Ford and GM do too. This would be the place for it. Then, all that remains (ha!) is bolting in the three tack strips, easier with no interior, stapling the top to the 4th bow, installing the headliner (easy) and attaching the top to the header. 3 or 4 man-hours, max. Which is part of why convertibles cost more.

    Anyway, it's a fiddly job, doesn't require the kind of mechanical skill and knowledge as, say, head replacement, it's more like the skills involved in painting or furniture repair or something. Rewards attention to detail, that's for sure. Fortunately, it can be re-done to the point of obsession.